Home Front Households: Patriotism, Women, & Domesticity

Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Featured objects from the Ed and Saryl Von der Porten Collection, part of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park museum collection.

The Von der Porten Collection
 All of the objects exhibited here are part of the Ed and Saryl Von der Porten Collection, a collection of over 1,800 WWII-era artifacts that are part of the museum collection at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, CA. The Von der Portens spent several decades building this collection of Home Front memorabilia that includes books, war bond and ration materials, toys, models and model kits, newspapers and magazines, household and decorative items, posters, and military souvenirs. Their passion and appreciation for history and material culture resulted in an incredible collection of artifacts that will remain an important part of the WWII American Home Front legacy.
Home Front Households: Patriotism, Women, & Domesticity
WWII was a time of significant cultural upheaval and change in the United States. America’s participation in the war produced substantial transformations to gender roles, consumer behavior, advertising, labor, children’s activities, and entertainment. During this time period, cultural ideals about femininity and domestic practices were very specific: a woman’s proper place was in the home as housewife, cook, and mother. However, the war created a need for women to step out of their kitchens and into the workforce, and propaganda campaigns artfully fostered temporary changes in behavior while simultaneously reinforcing cultural norms, emphasizing domesticity as a duty as patriotic as picking up a rivet gun. The objects featured in this exhibit showcase how patriotism manifested in the home through material culture, with an emphasis on the role of women as domestic soldiers on the American Home Front.
In the Home
During WWII, every American citizen was expected to participate in Home Front efforts. People communicated their patriotism by displaying items that signified support for and engagement in the war, and their homes reflected both their individual tastes and the United States' involvement in the global conflict. The items in this section showcase a sample of the kinds of objects displayed and used in American homes during WWII.

The service flag is the culturally recognized symbol of a loved one in military service. During WWII families signaled their personal participation in the war effort and their allegiance to the country by hanging service flags in windows or inside their homes.

The “Keep ‘Em Flying” slogan was coined by chief army recruiting officer Lt. Col. (later Maj. General) Harold N. Gilbert to elicit support for airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII. The Army Air Forces was formed in 1941 from the Army Air Corps and was succeeded by the U.S. Air Force in 1947. “Keep ‘Em Flying” is visible on a variety of items from WWII such as matchbooks, pins, signs, and this glass sulfide paperweight.

V-Mail, also known as Victory Mail, was the method used by the United States during WWII to efficiently send mail to and from those serving in the Armed Forces. Based on the British Airgraph process, letters were copied to microfilm and then reprinted on paper once they reached their destination. V-Mail sheets made the microfilming process easy for the workers who processed them by utilizing standard sizes and layouts. Companies that produced ink, such as Waterman’s, began marketing their ink as “ideal for V-Mail” as a way to cash in on the war effort and increase sales.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) served as president of the United States from 1933-1945, the longest serving president in U.S. history and one of the most popular. Though produced prior to WWII, this clock would have been proudly displayed on household mantles throughout his tenure as president.

With the threat of air raids always looming, blackout preparedness was an important part of civilian defense. This kit combined utility with fun, likely as a way to ease the anxiety and fear associated with air raids.

General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was a General in the U.S. Army, and Field Marshal in the Philippine Army. He retired in 1937 but was recalled to duty in 1941 to assist with the war effort. MacArthur’s role as a leader in the Pacific theater during WWII earned him numerous medals, including the Medal of Honor.

When new, this victory-themed fly swatter featured a patriotic red, white, and blue wooden handle and a clear message about who the enemy was. As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took center stage as America’s enemy, and anti-Japanese sentiment surged. Racist language like that on this fly swatter reflects that sentiment and is an important reminder of the dehumanizing elements of war.

Text on swatter: “This Victory Swatter can’t be used to battle the Japs, but the steel saved in the wire handle can.”

Men serving overseas commonly sent souvenirs to their loved ones for them to proudly display in their homes as symbols of patriotism and support. Additionally, veterans often returned home with items they had acquired during their service. The Von der Porten Collection features 135 souvenir objects that include pillowcases, handkerchiefs, magazines, war maps, flags, foreign currency, and other memorabilia.

The USS Curtis was a U.S. Navy seaplane tender involved in the battle at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This colorful souvenir pillowcase commemorates the ship and celebrates the U.S. Navy as "America's Guardian."

Solid aluminum commemorative ashtray modeled after the USS Boxer, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company in Newport News, Virginia. The ship's builders created this ashtray as a gift for its officers.

This dagger would have been carried by a member of the NSFK - National Socialist Flyers Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps) - the predecessor to the Nazi Luftwaffe. Possession of this dagger by an American would signify victory over the enemy and may have even been displayed in the home of a veteran as a souvenir from combat.

Books provide an excellent snapshot of an era's events and cultural values. The Von der Porten Collection contains 151 books that capture what life was like during WWII. The books included in this section reflect how the themes of victory and patriotism were embedded into the practices of everyday life, and highlight how women were expected to participate in the war effort through daily household practices such as food rationing, saving energy, and knitting.

Government propaganda campaigns stressed the importance of food conservation, urging citizens to "Produce and Conserve, Share and Play Square," and touting food as "the mightiest weapon of them all!" Women were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens, preserve and dehydrate foods to make them last, adhere to rations, and recycle fats for fuel. During WWII, staying healthy was heralded as a patriotic duty, and numerous books such as this monthly Health-For-Victory Club publication were created to assist homemakers with ways to maintain health while being as thrifty as possible.

Prudence Penny was the pseudonym for a collection of chefs, writers, and editors employed as food columnists by Hearst newspapers across the U.S. in the early to mid-20th century. Prudence Penny’s columns featured recipes and advice for preparing delicious and nutritious meals, so it’s no surprise that during WWII she would publish a book offering instructions for making the most of rations. This patriotic book features recipes, tips for stretching ration points, and handy charts for exchanging and keeping track of rations.

Knitting was a common domestic hobby for women, but WWII turned it into an act of patriotism. During the war, patriotic American women knitted countless socks, sweaters, scarves, hats, and other essentials and sent them to men serving in the Armed Forces.

During WWII, the U.S. Government created several councils and organizations that worked together to mobilize civilians to prepare for defending the country from various threats to the home front. This booklet proclaims that civil defense is “The Duty and Destiny of Every American,” and provides information on ways to engage. Active participation in civil defense was a very visible way of demonstrating one’s patriotism and support for the war.

Music played an important role during WWII. It provided entertainment and assisted in boosting morale, both abroad and on the home front. This patriotic songbook features music and lyrics for 26 songs, including “Uncle Sam I’ll Do my Share,” "Fight, America, Fight,” and "Call to Victory.”

The Kitchen
During WWII, many people considered the kitchen to be the heart of the home. It is where meals were prepared and shared, and where women were expected to spend a significant amount of time to care for their families. Often called “kitchen patriots,” women played an important role in supporting the war effort from their homes, and the items in this section are the material symbols of their roles as domestic soldiers on the home front.

This set of drinking glasses feature an airman, a naval officer, a sailor, and a laborer with their sweetheart, each with its own patriotic slogan.

The inside view is a bit more risqué and highlights the role that women were expected to fill in supporting their men during the war, and the way they were expected to look and dress while doing it.

This OrnaWood whisk broom holder with a painted military airplane at the top was made to be hung on the wall in the kitchen or utility room. OrnaWood, popular in the mid-twenthieth century, is a material made of pressed wood pulp and resin and carved to give the appearance of real wood.

During a time when materials rationing impacted manufacturing, companies sought to market items that emphasized rationing and denoted eager participation in the war effort as a way to boost sales. Having items like this in one’s home signified cooperation and participation in the government’s policies.

WWII ended in 1945, allowing much of the world to breathe a collective sigh of relief. This lovely little ceramic teapot symbolizes victory for the Allies after the long and arduous global conflict.

These hand embroidered dish towels feature a female soldier performing daily household tasks such as ironing, washing, mending, cleaning, and cooking, highlighting the woman's role as a domestic soldier on the home front.

After the U.S. joined WWII, virtually everything got a war-themed makeover. These salt and pepper shaker sets were a simple yet effective way to keep the war effort centered in the routine tasks of everyday life such as cooking and sharing meals.

Patriotic Beauty
During WWII, traditional notions about femininity and beauty were accentuated as a way to counter the perceived “masculinization” of women caused by their new roles in industry and military service. Women were expected to support their men while emphasizing their femininity and living up to the cultural ideal of the all-American woman. In this way, embodying that ideal became a patriotic duty and women could assert their feminine identity and their support for the war through routine beauty practices and personal adornment items such as the ones in this section.

U.S. Navy Victory Insignia Scarf with guide for different ways to wear it. This was designed to be sold to servicemen overseas to send home to their sweethearts.

The rationing of metal used to make hairpins made saving and reusing them a priority. Package inserts encouraged women to carry their pins with them to their hair appointments, and portable plastic “Victory Purse Packs” enabled women to easily transport their precious metal hairpins in their purses, reducing the need to constantly purchase new ones.

Sweetheart jewelry surged in popularity during WWII and was a visible way for a woman to assert that she was off-limits, while also signaling her support for the war. Additionally, wearing this was an important means of providing comfort to the men who were serving, as their fears about long distance romances would be assuaged by knowing their sweetheart was proudly displaying her status as a "taken woman."

Kerk Guild Inc., known for making popular figure soaps like Shirley Temple and the Lone Ranger, cashed in on the war by creating this patriotic set of soaps featuring figures from each branch of the military. While more for decorative purposes than for practical use, they illustrate how every aspect of American lives, including basic daily hygiene practices, were affected by the war.

This lovely hand embroidered handkerchief would have been carried by a mother whose son was in the U.S. Navy. This is one of several handkerchiefs from the Von der Porten Collection that designate a woman’s connection to either a son or sweetheart in the Armed Forces.

Credits: Story

Thank you to the late Ed and Saryl Von der Porten and to the Rosie the Riveter Trust for purchasing the collection and donating it to the park,

Exhibit created by Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park.

Images courtesy of Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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